Monday, May 2, 2016

Old Towns / Robbie Shirriff Concert Review and Photo Essay: Wolf Willow Cohousing, Saskatoon – April 20, 2016

Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Photos can be made larger by clicking on them

I haven’t been to a house concert in a while. Quite a while, actually. As my generation gets older, the performance space seems to be moving out of livings rooms, garages or even rental spaces somewhere else; now it’s being held in the common areas of group housing spaces. In this case, it was the Wolf Willow Cohousing complex, in the Core neighborhood of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on a beautifully cool last day of April.

A co-worker told me about the show. We’ve been talking about music for a while now, especially of his days a few decades ago in Toronto, where we know a lot of common bands.  This show was by Robbie Shirriff, who goes by the nom de chateur of Old Towns. I was not aware of him before this.

Originally from Saskatoon, he moved around to Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton (his current locus of operations). It may not change your life to know this, but it informs his songwriting quite strongly. Traveling is one of the three main themes of his music (but not all of it), with songs like “See You Soon Saskatoon,” “So Long Saskatchewan,” “San Francisco,” “Strathcona” (which is in Vancouver), and so forth. There’s lots of movement, which perhaps leads to the second two topics, being angst usually brought about by loneliness (most are in first-person perspective), e.g., break-ups, being on the road, and drinking. Oh, yes, many songs mention brown liquids in one form or another, something to which many musicians, especially lonely ones on the road, can relate.

The flyer for the show calls the style “Acoustic-Folk from the Prairies,” though, honestly, I would say more Singer-Songwriter than pure folk. I like ‘em both, so it’s all good. Most of his songs were originals, except for two by the Defeaters and Lucero.

Shirriff is a bit of a one man band, playing guitar and banjo (not simultaneously, of course), harmonica on a shoulder brace Dylan-style, and a worn tambourine that he played with his foot for rhythm. His voice is tenor, and when called for, he belts it out on emphasis notes, with a crack in the voice to highlight particular tsuris moments.

It was an enjoyable show, and I stayed through both sets, before scurrying off into the warming spring night. Shirriff, whose mom was in the audience of about 40 people (a near full house…er…rec room) – that’s how Saskatoon it was – was off the next day to continue his tour across Canada, which is does often.

For more info on where he will be appearing, check out his sites at:

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